rillalicious: (Caroline Williams 1)
[personal profile] rillalicious
Chapter 1
Chapter 2


"Sinclair."

"Hey, David. It's Colby."

"Can't be. Colby wouldn't call at a decent hour twice in a row."

"Always the funny man."

"I've got to keep you entertained somehow. All you've got all day long is Warner and Betancourt."

"I know. Total hardship. I don't know how I manage to deal without you."

"You don't. That's why you call me four times a day."

"Hey, I'm cutting back. We didn't talk at all yesterday."

"I was wondering about that. You finally found something better to do with your time?"

"Maybe."

"You saw Caroline."

"She, uh... It's not what you're making it sound like, David. She needed someone to help her move."

"And the truth comes out. So, she's washed your dishes and you lifted her couch. When are you going to ask her out for real?"

"David. Again. Caroline."

"Yeah, Colby. The only woman you've ever talked about with that tone of voice."

"You know her husband died, right? I mean, you were there at the scene. It's not like I met her at a club."

"Everyone has to meet somewhere. That was five years ago."

"I don't need dating advice, David."

"I beg to differ, my friend. Last time I checked, you needed all the help you could get."

"Yeah, well. Things change."

"So, what's that mean? You haven't taken any witnesses to bed lately?"

"You're an ass. You know that?"

"Sorry. That was out of line."

"Yeah. It was."

"You're frustrating the hell out of me, Colby. Seriously."

"Did anyone ever tell you that you're way too invested in my personal life?"

"Don. Liz. Nikki. Ian. Basically everyone we've ever met."

"As long as you're aware you have a problem. So let me even the playing field for you. How's your romantic life these days, Agent Sinclair?"

"I'm busy."

"Right. Busy. With this job you're not doing because you're worried about finding me a girlfriend."

"If I was really interested in finding you a girlfriend, Colby, you'd be painting your little picket fence outside the house you share with Caroline right now."

"You think you've got that much influence over me."

"I know I do."

"I think D.C.'s gone to your head, David."

"Maybe. Or maybe it's made me craftier."

"You can be crafty? This I have to see."

"I'm just saying, I'm not above calling Betancourt for a little... assistance."

"You think Nikki's gonna help you find me a girlfriend?"

"You've already found her, you just need to pull your head out of your ass. I'm pretty sure Nikki can do that for you."

"Yeah, she's volunteered a few times. Then again, she's also volunteered to shove a few inanimate objects up it."

"That woman's got anger issues."

"You're telling me. Hang on a sec, I'm getting a text. David? I've gotta go."

"Okay, you go text your girlfriend. Later, Colby."

"She's not my--David? Hello?"



~*~*~




Colby looked down at his cup of coffee, holding the flimsy plastic stirrer between two fingers as he watched the liquid form a deep whirlpool in the center. It should have been a relief that his greatest concern at the moment had to do with a woman, and whether or not his interest in her was purely platonic (it wasn't, no matter what he said to David, but the sheer amount of guilt involved made it almost impossible for him to admit otherwise). Instead, he found himself annoyed that he'd let such a little thing distract him from work, he should have been focused on the job.

Oh, hell. Who was he kidding? Since David left, nothing had been normal, and the idea of having Caroline close was probably more appealing than it should have been, because she'd fill the void. He needed a new best friend, right? Well, here she was. Now he just had to figure out how to compartmentalize all the other stuff to keep it from getting in the way.

"You all right, Colb?"

Colby's head shot up and he nodded. "Oh, hey, Don. I didn't see you come in. What're you doing back in these parts?"

"I had something to drop off with Liz," said Don. "About the Marinelli case. She's got Larry helping her out and he wanted this old file Charlie left at the house."

Colby nodded and Don squinted him a smile.

"You're lookin' at me like you've never heard the name Marinelli," said Don.

"Sorry," Colby said, shaking his head. "Mind's somewhere else today."

"Yeah, I noticed. Hey, I talked to David the other day. He said that girl moved back to L.A., the one from the plane crash a few years back."

So David had skipped Nikki entirely and went straight for the big guns. Colby could play that game too, he just needed to figure out David's angle here.

"Uh, yeah, Caroline's in town. So? Look, Don, I don't know what David told you, but whatever it was, it's not happening between me and her, all right?"

Don snorted, and clapped Colby on the back of the shoulder as he walked by, harder than Colby thought was entirely necessary.

"David didn't tell me anything, man. But you just did. Good luck with her, Colb. It's about time you settled down."

"I'm not sett--She's just a friend, Don," Colby called after him, but Don was already gone.


~*~*~



All the talk about Caroline and the awkward, impending romance-that-wasn't gave Colby the uncharacteristic urge to run away from her front door when he arrived, late in the afternoon. She'd texted him about some flooding issue, and that the apartment manager wasn't answering her calls. Colby leaned on the door jamb and waited for her to answer. That he was becoming the guy she called when other options fell through wasn't promising.

When the door opened, Caroline smiled up at him, her hair backlit by the reflection of the setting sun, frizzy around her head where it had loosened from the ponytail. She wiped her forehead with the back of her wrist.

"I really need to meet more people in L.A.," she said. "You've got to be sick of me by now."

"I couldn't get sick of you, Care," said Colby, and again he found himself staring for a little too long, only this time he was more aware of what he was doing, and his face started to heat, right through to the tips of his ears. He wished he was still wearing his shades.

"So what's going in there?" he asked, when she hadn't spoken again.

"Oh, um, the kitchen floor is wet." Caroline winced. "Really wet."

"You got a mop?" Colby said.

"Gee, why didn't I think of that?"

He walked past her into the apartment, looking around. "Nice place when everything's out of boxes."

Caroline snorted. "It took me a while, but I did it."

"Oh, I'm not judging," said Colby. "I've been at my place for 4 years and I've got a whole closet full of unpacked boxes--Whoa." He stopped in the kitchen doorway. "Yeah, that's wet."

"Yeah," said Caroline.

He'd expected water on the floor, maybe a full sink, but not inches of water on the floor.

"Mop's not gonna cut it," said Colby.

"This is why I called you. I consider myself pretty self-reliant, but... this is a big job."

Colby rubbed his chin. "You're not kidding."

"And you don't want to deal with it, either."

"Uh, not especially."

Caroline sniffed, shooting a grin in his direction without turning to look at him. "I knew I could count on you to make me feel less alone in my apprehension, Colby."

"What do I always say? I'm a reliable guy."

"So, you want to hang out and keep me company while I wait for someone to call me back?"

Colby laughed. "You bet."

She started to say something else, but her phone rang, the first few bars to some popular song that he only knew in passing, and she pulled it out of her back pocket.

"Building manager!" she said, relief spreading across her face as she raised the phone to her ear.

Colby blew out a long breath and turned to walk to the other end the apartment, the carpet squishing beneath his feet until he was out of the hallway. The thought of spending the afternoon slacking off with Caroline in lieu of fixing her plumbing problem had been more tempting that he was entirely comfortable admitting. It wasn't that he couldn't do the job, his father had impressed upon him an extensive knowledge of all things home repair related from an early age, but Colby spent enough time at work solving other people's problems. Sometimes it was worth it to let someone else do the job for a change. And she got that, too.

It had always been like that with them, a comfortable understanding and acceptance. It made hanging out with Caroline just about effortless most of the time. He wondered what she'd end up doing for the rest of the day now.

And Christ, there he went, letting David get to him. Even Colby was starting to forget that it wasn't like that with Caroline.

"He'll be right over," she said, and he started at the sound from behind him.

Really, Colby? You didn't expect to hear her in her own apartment?

"Good news, then," he said.

"Good and bad. I've got to clear out for at least the afternoon. Possibly for a couple of days. He's got the same complaint in three other units in this building and they need to find out how extensive the damage is." She sighed. "Can I pick them, or what?"

"I've gotta admit, your taste is questionable. You've only been here a week and already they're moving you out?" He snorted. "And David tells me I have trouble surviving on my own."

"You do," she said. "I've seen your kitchen. Anyway, the cabin hasn't sold yet. I was thinking I'd grab a few things and head up--"

"My place." He cut her off before he even realized he'd been thinking it. The idea of Caroline going back to the mountain, maybe figuring out how much better it was out there than in the city (and Colby was undoubtedly certain that anyone in their right mind would figure that out in short order), and deciding to stay, was something he wanted to head off right away.

"I'm sorry?"

"You can stay at my place. I'll sleep on the couch. It's only for a night or two, right?"

"Um, yeah." She shifted from one foot to the other, then reached down to rearrange the magazines sprawled across the coffee table. "That's what he said. Just a night or two."

"Then it's no big deal," said Colby. "I'll be at work most of the time anyway. You'll have the whole place to yourself."

"All four hundred square feet of it?" she said, and her smile returned as she glanced up at him.

"The whole mansion," he said. "We can hang out, get some movies. It'll be fun. I could use the company."

"So could I," said Caroline. "Let me put a bag together and I'll be right out."

"Sure thing," said Colby, and he dropped down to the couch to wait as she headed back to the bedroom, cursing under her breath as her feet found the wet carpet.

He chuckled to himself and grabbed a copy of Sierra Heritage magazine off the stack on the coffee table, started thumbing through it. The vastness and solitude in the pictures that went with the cover article gave him that pang of homesickness he'd never been able to shake, and he sighed thoughtfully. There were times he considered buying Caroline's cabin himself (when his imagination was up to constructing the fantasy that he could manage it on his salary), just to have a place to get away. Of course, if that were a reasonable possibility, he'd probably want a place that carried a lot less baggage. For both of them.

And then it struck him, that if he had a place like that at all, Caroline would be the first person he'd want to bring along. David would have a standing invitation too, of course. And he supposed Liz and Nikki would want to check it out. Maybe even Don. But mostly, it would be cool just to spend time up there with Caroline, like their far too infrequent yearly meetings up on her mountain.

The building manager showed up just then, blessedly interrupting the thought, and Colby let him in. He was a compact, dark-haired man, in a grease-stained grey shirt that read "Manuel" just above the pocket. He stomped past Colby, muttering under his breath and making a beeline for the kitchen. Caroline met up with him as she came out of the bedroom.

"I unplugged everything as soon as the water started spreading," she said. "It started gushing from--"

"I already know," said Manuel, curtly. "204 and 207 are flooded too. Water to the building's been shut off before the whole goddamn place looks like Niagara Falls. Are you getting out of here soon?"

"Um, yeah." Caroline shot an amused look at Colby as she edged herself in his direction. Manuel splashed through the kitchen toward the sink.

Colby leaned over to her. "Clearly a guy who doesn't have time for this shit," he murmured.

She laughed. "Oh! I'm forgetting something," she said, shoving her bag into his hand.

She walked to the kitchen door, ignoring an annoyed glance from Manuel, and hoisted herself onto the counter without touching the floor. Lowering her head beneath the cabinets, she crawled along the narrow counter top until she reached the sink, then swung around, slithering out from under the cabinets to stand in the basin. Stretching up on tiptoes, she retrieved a bottle of wine from atop the fridge.

"Provisions," she said, holding it up triumphantly before repeating the gymnastics on her way out.

Manuel mumbled something and shook his head, then disappeared beneath the sink.

"If the consulting gig doesn't work out, you should look into cat burgling," said Colby. He moistened his lips, which had gone dry while he watched her, pretending his gaze hadn't been drawn to her ass the entire time.

"I'll keep that in mind," she said, winking as she tucked the wine bottle into her bag. "Of course, I'd hate to take a job that landed me on an FBI watch list. I hear they've got some competent agents in these parts. Present company excluded, of course."

"Watch it, smart ass. Or you might be the one sleeping on the couch tonight," said Colby, grinning as he held the door for her.

"Hey, if it's good enough for you," she said. "I'm no wilting daisy, Granger."

"Later, Manuel," Colby called out, snorting as they were treated to a crash and a string of curses in response. He shut the door and followed her to the parking lot. "I never said you were."

"Just making sure we're clear," she said, climbing into her pick-up.

Colby snorted and opened his driver's side door. In spite of the crooked smile he gave her as she started to back out of the spot, he was feeling more and more like he wasn't clear on anything going on between them. He wasn't sure how he felt that she, apparently, was.








Chapter 4

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Rilla

January 2012

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